The Beginner’s Guide to Trademarks vs Copyright and Patent

Protecting your intellectual property (IP), whether you are a business owner or an inventor, is a smart decision. This could involve a trademark or copyright, as well as a patent depending on what type of work you are trying to protect. Each of these have a unique purpose and registration process. To determine which IP is best for you, be familiar with the differences.

How to Get a Trademark

To prevent others from using your trademark, you need to register a phrase, symbol, word, or design that distinguishes the product or service from other offerings. Although you can register a trademark at the US Patent and Trademark Office, this step is not necessary.

You can still use your trademark even if you don’t register it. However, without a registration, you won’t get the USPTO’s legal protections–exclusive rights to the trademark and a presumption of ownership.

This means that you will be the owner of the mark, but the government won’t recognize you as such. We recommend registering your trademark – brand name, logo, slogan – to enforce your exclusive rights, if needed.

How to Get a Copyright

If you wish to have the exclusive right of selling, duplicating, sharing, and manipulating your work, get a copyright. It is important to remember that artists automatically have all rights to their original work. Registration is not necessary.


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However, the U.S. can register a copyright. Copyright Office allows you to protect your original work against unauthorized use. The registered copyright allows you to enforce it if someone uses it illegally.

In other words, a registered copyright allows creators to file a lawsuit in federal court for infringement. If you wish to receive statutory damages or attorney’s fees, registration is also required. The registration of a copyright makes it public and gives the creator a certificate.

How to Get a Patent

If you have a process or chemical composition that you want to protect, you can get a patent. Patents are the most complicated type of intellectual property protection. They protect how your invention works, not just how it looks.

Patents are similar to trademarks and are managed by the USPTO. However, unlike copyrights and trademarks, patent must first be applied for and granted in order to provide protections. Patent application can be complicated and time-consuming. It’s worthwhile if you want IP theft protection for your valuable invention.

Trademark vs Copyright vs Patent

  Trademark Copyright Patent
Registering at a reasonable cost $225 to $2,000 From $45 to $65 $1,500 – $15,000+
What is Protected? Differentiating words, phrases and symbols Creativity in a tangible medium Inventions
All Rights Reserved Stop others from using your trademark Control reproduction, distribution, display, and control of work Stop others from using, making, or selling the idea or item
Protection length Indefinite Variable Variable
Register required Optional Optional  
DIY Difficulty Moderate to difficult Simple Difficult
Time to File From three months to several decades From 1 to 21 Months Six months to many years
Types of attorneys recommended We recommend that you hire a trademark attorney No need for an attorney We recommend that you hire a patent attorney


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Both traditional trademarks as well as service marks are often described by trademark. Traditional trademarks include words, phrases and symbols that identify goods, while service marks are used to distinguish services.

Although registration is not required to use your trademark rightfully, it provides additional protection. When starting a business, new business owners who have a strong brand need to consider trademark registration.

Registering Requirements

To use a trademark on products or services, you don’t need to register it. You can use the trademark as part of your regular business.

If you wish to have exclusive rights to the trademark associated with your products, however, it must first be registered with USPTO. Public notice of ownership is also provided by registration. The registration creates a presumption that the mark is owned. People should consider carefully before using it.

To register your trademark go to the USPTO website and submit an application via the Trademark Electronic Application System. The application fee starts at $225, but could be higher. You will be charged more if you request an extension or work with a lawyer.

After you have submitted your application, you can monitor your status via TEAS. It may take up to six months for a reply. It may take several years to register a trademark.

Length of Protection

Because they are based upon actual use, trademark rights don’t expire after a certain period. Your trademark is valid as long as it is used in commerce or in connection to your goods and services.


Tip Registered trademarks are only valid for a period of 10 years. You must renew your USPTO registration to continue protection.


Do You Need to Trademark Your Business Name

Your LLC or corporate name, which you register with the state to start a business, is protected at state level. This means that no other state business can use your company’s name. If you intend to only do business within your state of filing, your business name may not be necessary to trademark.

However, if you anticipate growing your business to a neighboring state–or nationally–trademarking your business name will give you the exclusive right to use it.

Register a Trademark with an Online Legal Service

You can register your trademark yourself, but it is easier to use an online legal service. IncFile will check if your trademark is available and, if so, you can file your trademark request online for $199 plus federal fees.

Visit IncFile


Copyright law in the United States protects “tangible media of expression.”

  • Music
  • Poetry
  • Novels
  • Paintings
  • Architecture
  • Movie scripts
  • Software for computers
  • Other original and creative works

A “copyright” refers to a set of rights that are associated with each work. This includes the right to sell, duplicate, display, modify, or display it.

A creator is entitled to copyright for each of his original works. However, registration with the U.S. Copyright Office grants him the right to enforce these rights in federal courts.

Registering Requirements

To protect a work, registration is not necessary. Artists should still copyright their work in order to be able to sue, register it, or prove ownership with a certificate.

Log in to to register and choose the type of work that you wish to copyright. The online registration platform will then direct you to a page where you can submit a request for $35-$65.

After submitting an application, the copyright process may take anywhere from 1 month to 21 months. Please submit your application as soon as you can. The following factors affect the time it takes to register:

  • Complexity of the application
  • How to submit the application
  • Method of payment

Protection length

Copyright protection length depends on the creator of the work, its date of creation, and when it was published. Copyright protection will be in effect for the lifetime of the person who created the piece. It can also last up to 70 years.

Protection is not available for work created for hire or where the identity of the creator is not known. Protection lasts 95 years from publication, and 120 years from its creation.


Tip Copyright protection is the same regardless of whether the copyright has been registered.


What is a poor man’s copyright?

Copyright for the poor is a fictional type of copyright. It’s created when an artist, creator or writer writes and sends it to herself.

This copyright strategy aims to establish the earliest date that the artist had the idea in order to prove ownership. Is this a good strategy? It doesn’t work. This strategy is not covered by relevant copyright laws. This does not provide the same protections that registering your work with U.S. Copyright Office


Patents protect unique intellectual property of inventors or designers. The following common IP can be patentable:

  • Machines
  • Proces
  • Manufactured products
  • Chemical compositions
  • A new variety of plants

Inventions can only be granted if they apply to the USPTO, unlike trademarks and copyrights. The patent application process can be lengthy and complex. We recommend that you hire a patent attorney to help you navigate the complex process. We recommend that you begin the patent process immediately if your business is and your product requires a patent.

Apply Process

The first step in the application process is to determine if your invention is patentable. This is a determination of whether or not your invention has been claimed publicly.

A comprehensive patent search is necessary to determine whether a patent has been claimed. This can be very difficult. We recommend that you hire a patent attorney.

Also, you will need to decide which type of patent is required–utility design, plant, or utility–and gather the necessary documents to file an application. The cost of an patent application varies depending on whether you work with an attorney or not. Due to the complexity of the application process, it can take up to six months before the USPTO grants a patent.

Length of Protection

The type of patent determines the length of patent protection. Provisional patents, for example, are granted for a year while the applicant seeks a formal one.

New design patents can be filed for up to 14 years from the date of issuance. Similar to utility and plant patents, they last for 20 years after being filed.

Online Legal Service to File a Patent

We recommend that you work with a local attorney if you have the money, especially if the patent is complex. If you are starting or running a business and have limited funds, an online legal service may be a better option to file your patent application. LegalZoom can submit your application for $199 plus the federal filing fees.

Visit LegalZoom

Bottom line

Protecting your intellectual property is essential for artists, creators, inventors, and other business owners. The available protections can be complicated and registration procedures can be complex.

Although the copyright registration process can be quite straightforward, we recommend that you hire an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law. You can hire an online legal service such as InFile (trademarks), or LegalZoom to help you navigate the process.

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